(creator: Jane Langton)
|Alan Starr, aged 29, is a highly skilled church organ builder and repairer, acting too as organist if required. Devoted as he is to music, he sometimes "found himself wondering why churches existed at all. They didn't do anything in particular. All they provided were Sunday morning lectures, a mysterious set of hieratic gestures, some meaningless gettings-up and sittings-down, a successsion of foolish hymns, and occasionally (it was true) a little good music." But he is a compassionate man, ready to help a 14-month-old orphan, as well as a dissolute old man who had once been one of the world's finest organists. It is he who enlists the help of Homer Kelly to discover what has happened to the baby's mother, but in the end makes the most important discovery himself.
Jane (Gillson) Langton (1922- ) has written nearly twenty mystery novels (which she describes as "self-indulgent wallowings in whatever excited me at the moment"), as well as other novels and eight books for children. Her detective novels all feature Homer and Mary Kelly. Homer is a Professor of American literature at Harvard who had once been a lieutenant detective in the office of the District Attorney of Middlesex County, and is only too happy to do some more detective work.
The author earned a bachelor's degree in astronomy from the University of Michigan, then a M.A. in art history and a second M.A. from Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. She went on to teach children's literature, and then suspense novel writing. She not only writes but illustrates her own books. She says, "The most fun I've had in writing mysteries hasn't been the writing, it's been the illustrating." She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, having lost her husband in 1997. She has three grown-up sons.
Divine Inspiration (1993)
There are some interesting characters in the story, including Rev. Martin Kraeger, minister of the Church of the Commonwealth. "Since childhood he had grown away from strict Lutheran conformity, no longer believing human nature to be corrupt, no longer concerning himself with the remission of sin by grace, the hope of eternal bliss.To him Luther's devil was a metaphor for human weakness ... He believed in a historical Jesus rather than a divine one .... For him the crucifixion was not a single event but a paradigm of the fate forever awaiting the good and the brave." His church was officially nondemoninational, so he could "pick and choose from a broad spectrum, faithful to no single orthodoxy." Yet his public persona was "loud, confident, hearty, affectionate and ironical." And he was divorced, with a 4-year-old daughter. Altogether an interesting and complex personality.
And there is the rich old widow, Edith Frederick, who controls her late husband's Music Endowment Fund, and has to be treated with the greatest respect and consulted about every musical matter, although she is tone deaf and ill-informed. But, looking at her hollowed cheeks, "the withered dewlaps, the sad decending lines around her mouth," Kraeger "thought of Holbein's woodcuts of the Dance of Death ... He could almost see the jolly skeleton hovering beside her, its arms hooked tenderly around her little jacket, its empty eye sockets snapping at ther joke, its grin widening in silent laughter. Well, the bony fingers would be reaching for them all before long .... Kraeger winced and suffered."
The author shows real social concern, as well as detailed knowledge of organ construction, the works of Bach (some of which are even reproduced in the text), and those of Martin Luther, which she quotes at the start of every chapter. The plot is rather slow to unwind but enlivened by episodes like those in which the redoubtable Mrs. Barker of the Department of Social Services wards off attempt after attempt to trick her into giving away the address of Charley's foster home. But even she is outwitted in the end.
Andrew Starr may not do all that much detection, but he plays a key role in the story and eventually finds the tape that leads to the villain's unmasking. He knows that "most male organists are gay. It's just a fact. I don't know why the hell it's true, but it is." But it becomes obvious that this does not apply to him.
The author uses at least two devices to keep us interested: first, there is an underlying threat throughout that the whole church structure is being endangered by a failure to keep the supporting pilings wet, and there are unexplained conversations shown in italics at the end of some chapters that hint at what is really going on behind the scenes.
There are some effective descriptions too, as of the most High Church in the district: "Every excuse for sacerdotal finery had been grasped. The suppliers of religious merchsandise had done a land-office business. There were banners with lambs and crosses, rood screens and baptismal fonts, and a high pulpit shaped like a tulip. There were altars with candlesticks, needlepoint kneeling stools, and wooden figures in generic saintly robes, their classic features pursed in holy wonder."
But, although the book is a long one and the pace sometimes slackens, the author has a real interest in church affairs and writes with authority.
|This is one of a series featuring detective Homer Kelly, but some crucial detection in this particular book is done by church organist Alan Starr.|
|The author illustrates the text with her own stylish drawings.|